Complex geometries

Current

By Michelle Pucci

Kathryn Clancy works for a company that promotes the medical applications of 3D printing. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Clancy)

Kathryn Clancy, MEng’16, first delved into the world of 3D printing as a Biomedical Engineering graduate student at McGill.

“I was interested in how biological materials interact with 3D-printed material,” Clancy says. “Looking at the biocompatibility of medical devices, I wanted to know, what are the hurdles of 3D printing for health care?”

Now a project manager at 3DHEALS, a company that promotes the medical applications of 3D printing, Clancy says that although the technology has been around for over thirty years, many of the applications have only emerged in the past decade. For years, producers of hearing aids and dental aligners have used 3D printing to achieve a custom fit. In medical settings, printing now regularly extends to prosthetics, wearable technologies, implants, simulation tools and bioprinting, that is, the printing of body tissue.

The Victoria Hand Project based in British Columbia designs and prints prostheses for amputees in developing countries. Surgeons successfully implant patients with 3D-printed titanium jaws. McGill and other universities print organs and other body parts for training purposes. Companies such as Organovo bioprint liver and kidney tissue for drug testing.

What is the appeal of 3D printing? According to Clancy, the answer is three-fold. This technology can manufacture products that are specific to the patient, complex enough to serve new functions and can be printed from anywhere in the world. “You can create these very complex geometries that would not be possible or would be very difficult with traditional manufacturing. These different lattice-bearing structures or this small detailed structure that can enable more cells to move throughout the implants are not as possible with traditional manufacturing,” Clancy says. In places without access to quality surgical tools, NGOs can 3D print casts, surgical instruments and prosthetic limbs.

In Canada and the United States, 3D printing is gaining ground in medical settings, but developing new health care products means overcoming regulatory hurdles and maintaining a standard of quality control for a burgeoning industry, Clancy cautions.

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